Happy 15th Anniversary to The Go! Team’s debut album Thunder, Lightning, Strike, originally released September 13, 2004.
When I mention The Go! Team’s Thunder, Lightning, Strike to friends, music nerds or not, it feels as if the Brighton-based band’s debut album has been mostly forgotten. But even if you don’t remember it, once you hear it, it’s hard to forget.
Thunder, Lightning, Strike brings back a lot of memories. I was raised on the classic rock and oldies radio of Philadelphia. I knew every word, every phrase, beat, and hit song from Smokey Robinson and The Miracles to Bowie and Steely Dan. My dad, a Beatles-elitist for life, would quiz me if it was Lennon or McCartney singing lead. Modern music was far from my radar. It took falling in with a different, younger group of friends at the end of high school to find out there was life beyond The Clash and The Stones.
One day in a backyard just a few blocks from my own, I sat around listening to my friends debate and discuss music like it was extra credit. Their music references were foreign to me. Each one gladly lent me a CD for educational purposes until I bought my own: Sonic Youth’s Rather Ripped, The Best of The Smiths, and The Go! Team’s Thunder, Lightning Strike.
Of course the last one caught my eye: the red and orange tiger flushed out in thick crayola stripes. When they played it for me that afternoon I was caught off guard. I didn’t know music could sound like this: radical and poppy, a throbbing tempo, and vocals upon chants layered on raps and countdowns. The Go! Team was my entry point to indie music when I was quite literally graduating from adolescence and college-bound.
“Ladyflash,” “Hold Yr Terror Close,” “Air Raid Gtr,” “Bottle Rocket” —even the song titles felt alien at first. Some are two minutes, some are four, and one was just a thirty-second burst of sound—an actual bolt of lightning.
Thunder, Lightning, Strike is a record of textures. There are cartoon clips, schoolyard chants, cheerleaders, rapping, sound effects, guitars nagging on their strings, and piano twinkles that make you feel like a kid again. I brought the record with me everywhere I went, driving through my suburban neighborhood, flushing out all the Foreigner, Boston, Eagles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd songs previously occupying my speakers.
The record opens with a subtle, lo-fi air raid before the drum sticks click us in. There are numbers before there are lyrics. Just a harmonica and sirens are behind the hook on “Panther Dash.” When the lyrics do show up, they’re a mix of samples and original vocals provided by the London-born rapper Ninja and now former member Angela "Maki" Won-Yin Mak. By the time you can make out their request to “stand here to rock the microphone,” you’re already in motion, as the flute comes in.
When I arrived at college, it was already in rotation at the student run radio station I was in training for. The music director, the epitome of the cool older girl, B-52s vintage fashion and all, made sure “Bottle Rocket” was spun regularly. I felt relevant and thankful I had heard of something.
In my freshman intro to studio production class, I used “Feelgood By Numbers” as outro music for an assignment. When the piano struck familiar chords in the control room, a friend declared, “this sounds like a Charlie Brown theme on drugs.”
The songs on Thunder, Lightning, Strike are participatory, demanding you get up and “shake your derriere” and “rock this place.” Many of the tracks are instrumental with a pulse of someone yelling “right now!” The band is armed with a toolbox of more than just keys, drums, guitar and bass. There are whistles, a recorder, scratching, and synths.
The Go! Team has quietly been putting out records every few years since 2004 but none of them have landed quite like their debut. Its follow-up, 2007’s Proof Of Youth, follows a lot of the same formula and has a few standout tracks. Go! Team songs have been used in Honda and Target commercials. Without lyrics and mix-and-match patterns, they’re an easy background soundtrack, but their melodies are memorable.
Every track is an earworm from “Huddle Formation” to “Junior Kickstart.” Closing track “Everyone’s a V.I.P. to Someone” is the longest of the eleven songs. A five-minute instrumental, it slows down with a looping banjo providing a new timbre for the band to experiment with.
When I told my high school friend (it was her backyard) about this anniversary, she said she listens to Thunder, Lightning, Strike now more than ever. “It’s perfect music for babies and toddlers to bounce around to. I forgot how great it is.”
There’s so much noise in the world of music, pop, indie, rock, and hip-hop, and that’s not including the criticism and commentary. Even though Thunder, Lightning, Strike was nominated for a Mercury Prize, The Go! Team still remain outliers to the mainstream. Their records are full of steady pandemonium and when I went to see them, along with openers Matt & Kim, in downtown Philly 15 years ago, the show was raucous on stage and in the crowd. I danced like an exaggerated caricature, feet shuffling, neck bobbing from side to side, and left with a catchy ringing in my ears.
A year after its release in the UK, it was re-released in the US once all of the sampling legalities were cleared. It was remastered and not much on the album changed, a few yelps, hollers, and counts to four. Thunder, Lightning, Strike is music for shenanigans. And if you haven’t heard it, start at the top. It’s only 35 minutes and will be the most exciting half hour of your day.